The Third Age of the Wheel of Time began with the chaos and destruction of the Breaking of the World that ended the Age of Legends (the Second Age) and ended with the Last Battle, the conclusion of which marked the beginning of the Fourth Age. The Third Age is the Age in which the Wheel of Time novels take place.
The Third Age is sometimes called the Age of Prophecy, as for the entire length of its duration it has been prophesied that the Dragon will be reborn to fight and defeat the Dark One, and the Aes Sedai of the Third Age have attempted to prepare mankind for this prophesied battle.
The Third Age has lasted for almost 3,500 years and has been divided into three lesser eras: After the Breaking (1,350 years), the Free Years (1,135 years) and the New Era (1,000 years). The main sequence novels begin in the year 998 NE.
After the Breaking
With the death of the last male channeler, the Breaking came to an end, although its severity had been decreasing for some time as more and more of the men died or were Gentled. The cities of Tear and Mainelle (on the present site of Tanchico) were established quite soon after the end of the Breaking, with some claiming that the Stone of Tear was actually built before the Breaking fully ended. The Toman Calendar was adopted since the previous calendar systems of the Age of Legends (of which no records now remain) were lost in the Breaking. In the following decades the Aes Sedai regrouped and founded the city of Tar Valon. Under Aes Sedai guidance, humanity soon began rebuilding and ten powerful kingdoms came into existence: Aelgar, Almoren, Aramaelle, Aridhol, Coremanda, Eharon, Essenia, Jaramide, Manetheren and Safer. 209 years After the Breaking (AB) the Compact of the Ten Nations was signed, uniting the kingdoms in peaceful trade and alliance. Humanity flourished for eight centuries and there were hopes that the glories of the Age of Legends could be recaptured. However, in 1000 AB, the Ten Nations were invaded by vast hordes of Shadowspawn, sparking the Trolloc Wars. The wars lasted for 350 years and devastated the continent.
The Free Years
With the defeat of the Trollocs and their retreat into the Great Blight, humanity again attempted to rebuild. The Gazaran Calendar was adopted naming the years as being free from the Trolloc threat. Five of the Ten Nations had been destroyed in battle, and the remaining five could not withstand internal pressures and collapsed within fifty years of the end of the Trolloc Wars. Within another fifty years, twenty-nine new kingdoms had arisen from the ashes: Aldeshar, Abayan, Balasun, Basharande, Caembarin, Dal Calain, Darmovan, Dhowlan, Elan Dapor, Elsalam, Esandara, Farashelle, Fergansea, Hamarea, Ileande, Indrahar, Kharendor, Khodomar, Masenashar, Moreina, Nerevan, Oburun, Oman Dahar, Roemalle, Rhamdashar, Shandalle, Shiota, Talmour and Tova. Unlike the prior epoch, the Aes Sedai were unable to weld these nations into a defensive alliance, and although border wars and skirmishes were not unknown, they did succeed in stopping major conflicts from erupting for over eight centuries. In FY 939, a man named Guaire Amalasan named himself the Dragon Reborn and in a four-year war conquered most of the south and west of the continent before being defeated by King Artur Paendrag Tanreall of Shandalle at the epic Battle of Jolvaine Pass. Amalasan was tried and gentled in Tar Valon. In the decades following this conflict the entire continent bar Tar Valon fell under the control of Artur Paendar Tanreall, who was named the High King in FY 963. The empire endured until Tanreall's death in FY 994. Attempts by his generals and governors to hold the empire together failed and with Tanreall's heirs dead or missing in his wars, the empire fell apart. The resulting civil war was called the War of the Hundred Years, as it lasted over 130 years, and again devastated the continent.
The New Era
The War of the Hundred Years ended in what is believed to be FY 1135, but the precise date was unknown due to the loss of continent-wide calendar-keeping during the conflict. To celebrate the end of the war, the Farede Calendar was adopted. Twenty-four new nations had emerged from the war: Almoth, Altara, Amadicia, Andor, Arad Doman, Arafel, Cairhien, Caralain, Ghealdan, Goaban, Hardan, Illian, Irenvelle, Kandor, Kintara, Mar Haddon, Maredo, Malkier, Mosara, Murandy, Saldaea, Shienar, Tear and Tarabon. However, over the next one thousand years ten of these nations would fall into decline and be destroyed or abandoned. The prestige of the Aes Sedai was also damaged, with falling numbers and opposition from groups such as the Children of the Light damaging their reputation for peacemaking. Wars and conflicts between the kingdoms were much more commonplace than in prior epochs (such as the Whitecloak War of 957 NE, and border wars between Andor and Cairhien, Arad Doman and Tarabon, and Tear and Illian). The Aiel War of 976 - 978 NE, saw the Westlands unite against a common foe as they had before against the Trollocs, but the conflict was limited in size and duration, although it was ruinous to Cairhien, and after the war the Aes Sedai were unable to preserve the alliance.
In the closing weeks of 998 NE, word spread from Toman Head that the true Dragon had been Reborn. In the following months it became clear that the Last Battle was indeed imminent, and the New Era and the Third Age itself were about to end.